It’s been almost two weeks since the death of civil rights leader, foot soldier and American inspiration Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth. I’ve read and heard many wonderful things about the man. There’s something I remember about Rev. Shuttlesworth, as well as Rosa Parks, Matin Luther King and many others in the Civil Rights Movement. They were quite humble and despite their recognition, they knew so much credit went to so many other people too. They knew what they were doing was important, but I feel they didn’t want people to think they were special. A very admirable trait in these leaders that should be emulated by everyone. And with all due respect, we all think the rev was pretty damn special.
Every American citizen should know the story of the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham. The brave leaders, the ordinary citizens doing extraordinary things, blacks and whites at odds and also beautifully working together. The death of Rev. Shuttlesworth makes me think about how the city, along with the country has made remarkable strides in race relations. Sure it’s not perfect everywhere, but what is? That question was rhetorical, but if it were literal, the answer would be, NOTHING. Perfection is highly unattainable and many times highly overrated. Especially when talking openly about different races and cultures. No race or culture is perfect. Sometimes we know a lot, sometimes a little and sometimes just enough about someone else. The important thing is, know something. Something about your neighbor and what they and their ancestors, forefathers went through. That’s how understanding and integration works. Remove barriers, find common ground and come together as a whole.
Of course, being from Birmingham, I may have more of a vested interest in the movement, and being black would seem to make it all the more significant. But like many situations, wether it be positive, negative, trivial or monumentally historical, it can be relatable after the fact. Even if you or your particular group was not directly involved or affected. We should be able to talk intelligently and rationally about things that don’t really involve or include us. This has been so taboo when it comes to race. Whites can’t talk about Blacks, Blacks can’t talk about Hispanics, Hispanics can’t talk about Asians and so on. We’re not that different from each other when you really think about it. But there in lies the problem. We really, really think about it. Way too much. So much, it keeps us separated. In the 70’s, Sister Sledge sang “We Are Family”. In the 80’s it was “We Are Devo”. In the 90’s Star Trek The Next Generation brought us “We Are Borg”. We need to get some of that cool WE action again. Except for that Borg part. You don’t want them moving next door to you. Playing that loud Borg music and throwing those loud Borg parties? There goes the neighborhood! Well here are some handy dandy scenarios that transcend race and will help get you through this crazy mixed up thing we call life regardless of creed, color and predisposition to making nerdy Star Trek references.
In high school, a white history teacher taught us about slavery, a black teacher taught me how to say buenos dias in Spanish class, and our shop teacher taught us that you could live a perfectly normal life with just nine fingers and in an RV behind your mom’s house. I forget what color he was. My point is, we need to embrace each other’s heritage, differences and struggles and teach each other. That said, sometimes people try to embrace their heritage, differences and struggles a little too hard core. I read an article in a magazine once about some skinny young actress on one of those terrible One Tree Melrose Gossip 90210 shows. She said she was proud of her curves, even though the only curve on her was her forehead. Nevertheless, she was an attractive girl, and probably a very nice person. Further along in the interview she said I love to eat pasta, but then again I'm Italian. Hey you, I love spaghetti and I'm not Italian! I eat rigatoni like it's going out of style, and not once have I appeared on MTV's Jersey Shore.
I had a conversation with a nice Jewish fella about Larry David's HBO show, Curb Your Enthusiasm. Larry David, if you didn't know, is Jewish and makes no bones about it in his show. During our conversation he was commenting on how Jewish the show was, almost in a way that openly said, you won't truly understand the show because you're not Jewish. Sure I'm not one of the chosen people, but I know absurd, awesomely dysfunctional, great comedy when I see it. Which brings to mind all those Jewish stereotypes perpetuated by, non-Jewish and Jewish people alike. Do you know how many whiny, neurotic, Black mothers out there nag their nice non-athletic black sons to get a good job as a doctor or lawyer and are always looking for a bargain? More than you could shake a matzoh ball at!
It's no just race that people try to lay claim as being so exclusively their sand no one else's. The sexes are constantly thinking they're so different from each other. Different, yes, but not as different as people want to think! I used to work at a very large company that was about 75% women, and quite possibly the most fertile place in the tri-state area. In other words, they were NEVER not pregnant. While regaling them with a tale of a horrible cavity I once had, I said that it was the worst pain in the world. Almost immediately three women piped up with, “Not worse than childbirth, Chris.”. Well duh. So I exclaimed, “I know childbirth is painful!”. Then they chimed in with the obligatory, “Oh how would you know Chris? You’ve never had a baby.”. Ladies, I understand childbirth, while joyous and rewarding, is the worst pain you've ever felt. But just because I don't have a uterus, doesn't mean I don't understand that popping out something akin to the weight and size of a Christmas ham from your lower abdomen, is gonna do more than just sting a little. I'm a man, not an idiot. I can easily relate to the pain of childbirth. Once I had this hangnail. Oh, don't get me started!
So like I said before, we’re not that different from each other when you really think about it. Our differences on the outside may be many, but our similarities on the inside are paramount. Your suffering may have been as bad as the other guy. Her history may be just as important as yours. We don't live in a perfect world and that's OK... But if we did live in a perfect world, I'd be six months pregnant, eating a bowl of matzoh balls & spaghetti, while my nine fingered, Jewish, doctor husband was out in the workshop building little Christopher Jr. a crib. I can dream can’t I?
“Here’s the thing…” is a weekly column featuring humor and commentary by Christopher Davis, comedian and host of Fresh Ground Comics and View of the City. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.